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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Policy Dialogue and Gendered Development: Institutional and Ideological Constraints



The concept of policy dialogue has gained increasing currency in recent years as a mechanism for promoting equitable, violence-free and sustainable development. Yet despite its wide usage — by international agencies and governments — the concept of policy dialogue has escaped sustained analytical scrutiny. This paper makes a systematic attempt to unpack the basic elements of the concept and to analyse the conditions under which it is likely to be successfully applied as a framework for development that is gender equitable.

The first part of the paper discusses the basic elements of a dialogue process that are likely to determine its outcomes. Several issues are identified as important in this context: the nature of group participation, which has implications for definitions of policy agendas; the relations between group leaders (who participate) and their followers; the patterns of power distribution in dialogue settings; the nature of the dominant discourse; the number of themes that are sanctioned to be taken up in dialogue; and the nature and amount of resources that are needed to develop and sustain the dialogue. These characteristics form the basis for the discussion of models of policy dialogue that follows.

Five models of policy dialogue — corporatism, technocracy, power sharing, entryism, and global sustainable pluralism — are analysed in the second part of the paper. For each model the paper considers its strengths and weaknesses; the kinds of outcomes that can be associated with it; and how gender issues have fared or are likely to fare in each type. The paper highlights the gains that women made under the corporatist/welfare model — in terms of employment, incomes, participation in public institutions and social welfare — which owed more to the dynamics and potentially gender-friendly discourse of this model, than to feminist activism per se. In other words, women make gains when labour unions are strong and when the macro-economic discourse for bargaining is sensitive to equity issues, even though they are not explicitly targeted as the main beneficiaries of the policy contract. By contrast, the technocratic neo-liberal model, which gained prominence in the 1980s, has on balance produced uneven outcomes for women. With the erosion of welfare programmes in many countries, women have largely been the ones who pick up the burdens of social provisioning. Where women have made gains in employment, this has not been translated into reasonable rates of remuneration, job security and social support. The paper also highlights the view that although gender issues figure prominently in the model that is currently popular in the development discourse — global sustainable pluralism (or sustainable human development) — progress here is likely to be slow, less purposeful, and dependent upon large infusions of resources and external leverage. The absence of political leverage in this model should be seen as a serious limitation, and one which underlines the need to seek out additional strategies for gendered policy dialogues if progress is to be made in using this model.

The paper then discusses four main constraints to the institutionalization of policy dialogue for gendered development, with a special emphasis on developing countries. These constraints relate to the hegemony of the neo-liberal discourse on development, which, despite some marginal areas of convergence with feminist discourses (human capital development), remains fundamentally hostile to initiatives for gender equity; the effects of globalization on the balance of power among key institutions in international, national and local settings, which have, on balance, empowered less gender-sensitive institutions; the rigidities of national bureaucratic cultures and practices, which make them resistant to new issues; and the unequal pattern of development and contradictions between gender constituencies themselves.

The paper concludes with a set of policy suggestions for overcoming these four constraints.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jun 1997
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD